The letter — signed by Dick Cheney, James Mattis, Mark Esper, Leon Panetta, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Robert Gates, William Perry and Ashton Carter — amounts to a remarkable show of force against Trump’s subversion efforts just days before Congress is set to count Electoral College votes.
“Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived,” the group wrote.
Still, a wide swath of congressional Republicans are siding with the President and plan to object to Biden’s win during Electoral College counting on Wednesday — even though their efforts will only delay the inevitable affirmation of Biden’s win.
The former Defense secretaries, who collectively represent decades of tenure in the position, wrote that presidential transitions “are a crucial part of the successful transfer of power.”
“They often occur at times of international uncertainty about U.S. national security policy and posture. They can be a moment when the nation is vulnerable to actions by adversaries seeking to take advantage of the situation.”
The shakeup put officials inside the Pentagon on edge and fueled a growing sense of alarm among military and civilian officials.
“Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic,” the letter states.
Cohen, a Republican who served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on “Newsroom” shortly after the letter was published that the “highly unusual” step was warranted given the “unconstitutional path” Trump has taken the country.
“It was really our attempt to call out to the American people. We believe all of them are patriotic. They’ve been led down a path by President Trump, which is an unconstitutional path. And so we felt it was incumbent on us as having served in the Defense Department to say: Please all of you in the Defense Department, you’ve taken an oath to serve this country, this Constitution, not any given individual,” he said.
“Each of us swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution; that oath does not change according to party designation,” Perry said.
The former Defense secretaries ended their letter urging the Defense Department to “refrain from any political actions” that could undermine the election results or harm the transition to a new administration.
“We call upon them, in the strongest terms, to do as so many generations of Americans have done before them,” the letter states.
“This final action is in keeping with the highest traditions and professionalism of the U.S. armed forces, and the history of democratic transition in our great country.”
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.